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Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 Passes the Earth May 23, 2006

Posted by John Tintle (MtO deadbait) in APoD, Comet 73P/Schwassman-Wachmann 3, Comets, Cosmotions.com, People, Small Celestial Bodies, Space Fotos, Thad V'Soske, Website.
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See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.
Credit & Copyright: Thad V'Soske (Cosmotions.com)

Explanation: Rarely does a comet pass this close to Earth. Last week, dedicated astrofilmographers were able to take advantage of the close approach of crumbling 73P / Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 to make time-lapse movies of the fast-moving comet. Large comet fragments passed about 25 times the Moon's distance from the Earth. The above time lapse movie of Fragment B of Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 over Colorado, USA was taken during a single night, May 16, with 83 consecutive 49-second exposures. Some observers report being able to perceive the slight motion of the comet with respect to the background stars using only their binoculars and without resorting to the creation of fancy digital time-lapse movies. Fragment B of Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 became just barely visible to the unaided eye two weeks ago but now is appearing to fade as the comet has moved past the Earth and nears the Sun. Many sky enthusiasts will be on the watch for a particularly active meteor shower tonight as the Earth made its closest approach to orbit of Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 late yesterday.

A Million Comet Pieces May 10, 2006

Posted by John Tintle (MtO deadbait) in Spitzer Space Telescope (SST), Comet 73P/Schwassman-Wachmann 3, Comets, Deep Space, NASA, Space Fotos.
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A Million Comet Pieces

Target Name: Comet
Mission: Spitzer Space Telescope (SST)
Spacecraft: Spitzer Space Telescope (SST)
Instrument: Multi-band Imaging Photometer (MIPS)
Product Size: 6669 samples x 5091 lines
Produced By: California Institute of Technology
Full-Res TIFF: PIA08452.tif (33.99 MB)
Full-Res JPEG: PIA08452.jpg (1.795 MB)
Original Caption Released with Image:

Click here for poster version of PIA08452 A Million Comet Pieces
A Million Comet Pieces
(poster version)

This infrared image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope shows the broken Comet 73P/Schwassman-Wachmann 3 skimming along a trail of debris left during its multiple trips around the sun. The flame-like objects are the comet’s fragments and their tails, while the dusty comet trail is the line bridging the fragments.

Comet 73P /Schwassman-Wachmann 3 began to splinter apart in 1995 during one of its voyages around the sweltering sun. Since then, the comet has continued to disintegrate into dozens of fragments, at least 36 of which can be seen here. Astronomers believe the icy comet cracked due the thermal stress from the sun.

The Spitzer image provides the best look yet at the trail of debris left in the comet’s wake after its 1995 breakup. The observatory’s infrared eyes were able to see the dusty comet bits and pieces, which are warmed by sunlight and glow at infrared wavelengths. This comet debris ranges in size from pebbles to large boulders. When Earth passes near this rocky trail every year, the comet rubble burns up in our atmosphere, lighting up the sky in meteor showers. In 2022, Earth is expected to cross close to the comet’s trail, producing a heavy meteor shower.

Astronomers are studying the Spitzer image for clues to the comet’s composition and how it fell apart. Like NASA’s Deep Impact experiment, in which a probe smashed into comet Tempel 1, the cracked Comet 73P/Schwassman-Wachmann 3 provides a perfect laboratory for studying the pristine interior of a comet.

This image was taken from May 4 to May 6 by Spitzer’s multi-band imaging photometer, using its 24-micron wavelength channel.

Image Credit:

Comet Stepping Stones May 6, 2006

Posted by John Tintle (MtO deadbait) in Spitzer Space Telescope (SST), Comet 73P/Schwassman-Wachmann 3, Comets, JPL, NASA, Space Fotos.
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NASA/JPL-Caltech/W. Reach (SSC)

This image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows three of the many fragments making up Comet 73P/Schwassman-Wachmann 3. The infrared picture also provides the best look yet at the crumbling comet's trail of debris, seen here as a bridge connecting the larger fragments.

The comet circles around our sun every 5.4 years. In 1995, it splintered apart into four pieces, labeled A through D, with C being the biggest. Since then, the comet has continued to fracture into dozens of additional pieces. This image is centered about midway between fragments C and B; fragment G can be seen in the upper right corner.

The comet's trail is made of dust, pebbles and rocks left in the comet's wake during its numerous journeys around the sun. Such debris can become the stuff of spectacular meteor showers on Earth.

This image was taken on April 1, 2006, by Spitzer's multi-band imaging photometer using the 24-micron wavelength channel.


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